An elderly couple in Shanghai, China, both 85, have burnt themselves to death in an apparent premeditated suicide, Chinese digital media The Paper reported.

Mr and Mrs Zhu set their home in Jinshan District alight on Sunday after posting a thank-you letter to their neighbours on their door six days ago, the report said.

“They were together in bed, hand in hand,” a neighbour who helped put out the fire was cited as saying.

shanghai old people suicide
The couple’s home was badly damaged in the fire. Photo: Weibo.

Police, firemen and neighbours were not able to rescue the couple as both the wooden and metal doors of the one-storey house were locked.

According to The Paper, the couple lived alone but were close to their family and neighbours. Their granddaughter had visited just two hours before the fire.

In the days leading to Sunday’s incident, they had done some strange things, such as giving away their kitchen utensils, the report said. Police are treating the case as suicide.

Worrying trend
The news stirred much debate on social media platform Weibo, where over two million people have viewed the topic and more than 7,000 have commented as of Wednesday.

Many prayed for the couple and said it was a “dignified” way to die. Others urged the government to improve its social insurance system to adjust to an ageing society.

shanghai old people suicide
A neighbour broke down in tears following the couple’s death. Photo: Weibo.

Some said the government should legalise euthanasia. “All those old people suffering from chronic diseases for years, those who have no one to care for them, those who are tortured by incurable diseases, they don’t have the freedom to choose to live or die because humans are afraid of death. Why can’t they be allowed to die peacefully?” one commentator said.

In 2014, the China Youth Daily reported suicide rates among elderly people in Chinese villages has been rising sharply since 1990. Economic booms in coastal areas drew millions of young farmers to cities, who often left their parents behind. Rapid development also eroded traditional family values as more and more young people chose to live separately from their parents. Citing a sociologist’s six-year research project, the report said many elderly people who chose to end their lives accused their children of neglecting their filial duties.

If you are experiencing negative feelings, please call the Samaritans, a 24-hour multilingual suicide prevention hotline, at 2896 0000.

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.